An explanation for conflicting records of Triassic-Jurassic plant diversity.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Aug 31; 107(35):15351-6.PN
Macrofossils (mostly leaves) and sporomorphs (pollen and spores) preserve conflicting records of plant biodiversity during the end-Permian (P-Tr), Triassic-Jurassic (Tr-J), and end-Cretaceous (K-T) mass extinctions. Estimates of diversity loss based on macrofossils are typically much higher than estimates of diversity loss based on sporomorphs. Macrofossils from the Tr-J of East Greenland indicate that standing species richness declined by as much as 85% in the Late Triassic, whereas sporomorph records from the same region, and from elsewhere in Europe, reveal little evidence of such catastrophic diversity loss. To understand this major discrepancy, we have used a new high-resolution dataset of sporomorph assemblages from Astartekløft, East Greenland, to directly compare the macrofossil and sporomorph records of Tr-J plant biodiversity. Our results show that sporomorph assemblages from the Tr-J boundary interval are 10-12% less taxonomically diverse than sporomorph assemblages from the Late Triassic, and that vegetation composition changed rapidly in the boundary interval as a result of emigration and/or extirpation of taxa rather than immigration and/or origination of taxa. An analysis of the representation of different plant groups in the macrofossil and sporomorph records at Astartekløft reveals that reproductively specialized plants, including cycads, bennettites and the seed-fern Lepidopteris are almost absent from the sporomorph record. These results provide a means of reconciling the macrofossil and sporomorph records of Tr-J vegetation change, and may help to understand vegetation change during the P-Tr and K-T mass extinctions and around the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.